Today worship was led at our chapel by our minister Trevor Dixon. We began by singing ‘Yes, God is good’ before Trevor led the prayers. Then Trevor spoke to the children about how as they grow they need new clothes to fit them, at times reminding them how much they grow; older people may need to get new clothes when suits shrink! Or rather they grow too wide for their clothes!! In just the same way the early church needed to learn to grow and recognise that the church was not exclusively for the Jews but for everyone! They needed to relax their Jewish rules on food they could eat; setting aside their stringent rules on clean or unclean food as Peter was shown through the vision he had. Trevor hoped we grow too as Christians. He gave an example of his grandson who could not resist a nibble of the food on his plate before grace had been said; he modified his grace to be; ‘For what we are about to receive and have already received we give you thanks, Lord.’ Trevor hoped such a modification would cease to be necessary when he had grown up more! We read Psalm 148 responsively; the left side of the church read the lines in the lighter type and we on the right responded with the lines in darker type; it helped us to praise God through the worshipful words. We sang a hymn I had not known before, which began ‘The great love of God is revealed in the Son’; it explains how Jesus came to redeem everyone through his cleansing love to free the whole world from sin. He came to break down barriers so all could be welcome. A reader then read the description of Peter’s report about his vision about God making all food clean so they could eat it, Cornelius was praying when an angel told him to send for Peter; he had hardly spoken when the Holy Spirit came on the Gentiles. As he told the Jerusalem church God had spoken and who was he to deny God? The Jerusalem church had to accept that and move on to be open to Gentiles in the church. A reader then read Revelation 21v1-6 about the New Jerusalem. Trevor told us that the tune for the previous hymn had been written by Peter Fletcher with whom he had been at college. Trevor then read the gospel reading from John 13v31-35 when Jesus told the disciples to love one another as he had loved them.
Before the sermon Trevor chose my favourite hymn ‘And can it be’ as I had requested. It now always reminds me of my father who came to hear me lead a service when he was in his 80’s. After the service he told me that he had felt his faith renewed, and before I could feel flattered, he told me it was that hymn which had moved him so much! He went home and put it down for his funeral service. When we sang it at the funeral both Malcolm and I felt that his spirit was being released to join his Saviour. I have also chosen it for my funeral!
Trevor then told us in the sermon that he enjoyed makeover programs, such as garden makeovers for surprises, houses being rescued from disastrous DIY over a weekend and order restored often better than the people could have imagined! There were 3 stages, the beginning in chaos, the middle period of feverous activity and the restoration of order; and celebration, laughter and contemplation of the end result. It was progress from chaos to paradise! Psalm 148 praises God as creator and the relationship between God and his creation of which He has fixed the boundaries, but there is a stress on present reality of bringing order out of chaos is being sustained by continuing creative activity. John’s gospel is set at the end of the last supper just before the arrest of Jesus and he gave words of comfort to strengthen his disciples and give them direction for the future without him. He expanded on the command from Leviticus and developed from loving your neighbour as yourself to loving each other as Jesus loved them. Jesus had set the example of how to love others and he called his disciples to follow his servant ministry. Jesus had washed feet and went even to the cross. He showed a radical new way of serving God. Jesus calls for sacrificial love with no bounds, after his obedience to death on the cross was a witness to the depth of God’s love for his people. It was not easy to be a Christian in the early church seen in Acts; who was Christianity to be available to? Jews were circumcised as a sign of their faith, but what about the Gentiles who were being attracted to Christianity? How did God want them to understand the laws from Leviticus about which foods were clean for them to eat in light of the new emerging faith of Christianity? Peter’s vision about all foods being made clean by God, seen 3 times, prepared Peter to go to see the Gentile Cornelius, when messengers came from him. In the passage from Acts Peter was reporting about how God had blessed Cornelius and those with him with the Holy Spirit as God had done for them at Pentecost, before he had hardly begun to speak. The Jerusalem church accepted that God had indeed confirmed that Gentiles were welcome as they were in the fledgling church. Trevor then told us that Peter’s experience challenged us today about how we respond to the material and spiritual poverty facing us today. What does the vision for the future seen in Revelation tell in its vision of a new heaven and a new earth, a Paradise, which showed the natural order in an ideal state? God would be worshipped in a new temple, a fulfilment of the psalm seen in Revelation. As God works through his disciples today such a world can become reality as we become channels for his love and care to meet the needs of those around us. Viewers in the makeover shows can decide how to respond to the finished work in the house or garden. Are we just content that such a transformation has been made or do we learn from it? It should be like an inspiring template to lead us to greater things for those in need in the community; what to do and how to be there for them. We need to be active participants in caring not just watchers or followers. We have a challenge to have a go with God’s help to bring God’s Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
Before the intercessions we sang, ‘I, the Lord of sea and sky’ and the service which was both worshipful and challenging concluded as we sang, ‘Go forth and tell’.